It’s not news that nuts, when consumed as a part of a healthy diet, can be good for your heart. According to the American Heart Association, these crunchy snacks pack in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which can be beneficial for your heart. Certain nuts, like walnuts, also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and some nuts contain beneficial quantities of other heart-healthy substances like vitamin E, plant sterols and l-arginine.
But now, research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that people who ate a daily serving of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than those who didn’t consume nuts. Not only that, but those who ate nuts regularly were found to be less likely to be overweight than their non-nut-eating counterparts. Reconfirming nuts’ role in heart health, the study found that nut consumption lead to a 29-percent reduction in death from heart disease. But boosting nuts’ health-promoting image, researchers also discovered an 11-percent drop in the risk of dying from cancer among those who ate nuts.
The study did not determine whether eating a specific type of nut was more protective than other types, but did note similar results for both peanuts and tree nuts, including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and pine nuts.
Eat a Variety of Nuts
According to Tara Wind, clinical dietitian at WakeMed Raleigh Campus, because the vitamin, mineral and protein content of nuts can differ greatly based on type, “The best recommendation for heart health and overall health is to get a good variety of nuts for the most nutrients and antioxidants.”
Wind pointed out that walnuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, the heart-healthy fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon, and that peanuts (while technically a legume) provide folate and vitamin E and are great for brain health. Vitamin E may also help stop the development of plaque in your arteries. Many nuts also contain plant sterols, which can help lower cholesterol, and l-arginine, which may help improve the flexibility of artery walls and make them less prone to blood clots.
Some are Better than Others
She cautioned, however, that not all nuts are created equally healthy. “Macadamia nuts and pecans have the lowest protein content per serving with the highest calorie content.” In addition, even the healthiest nuts can be an unhealthy choice if they’re coated in sugar, salt or oil, so it’s important to select nuts and nut butters that are just nuts, without a lot of extras added.
“The best choices are raw or dry-roasted nuts,” said Wind. “Avoid nuts packed in oil, and those covered in yogurt, salt, chocolate or sugar. And always read the ingredients when using nut butters; choose a product with the fewest ingredients, preferably just nuts and salt.”
She added that many nut butters have high-saturated-fat oils like palm oil added to prevent separation and that low-fat nut butters generally replace the fat with added sugars, leaving little difference in the calorie count.
Nuts and nut butters are easy to overdo, since they are relatively high-calorie and high-fat snacks, so moderation is the name of the game when it comes to these filling treats. According to Wind, the American Heart Association recommends four servings of unsalted, unoiled nuts per week. And, it’s important to keep an eye on the recommended serving size – it’s just 1.5 ounces of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butters.
Just a Few Will Do
“To avoid overeating, try the 100- or 200-calorie pre-packaged snack bags or simply measure it out yourself,” said Wind. “One ounce of nuts is approximately 1/4 cup.” Put away the large bag or jar once you’ve measured out your portion to avoid mindless snacking, and definitely avoid nuts as part of a high-calorie trail mix, said Wind.
In addition to just eating a handful of nuts a day, there are plenty of ways to boost your nut intake without overdoing it. Wind recommends adding a serving to a larger, healthy meal or snack, like oatmeal, yogurt or salads.
So enjoy nuts as a part of an overall heart-healthy diet, but don’t go too nuts! Keep a close eye on serving size and moderation and pair them with other healthy ingredients like whole grains, low-fat dairy or fresh fruits or vegetables, and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the varied health benefits that nuts provide.
Calories: 246 Protein: 9.0 g Fiber: 5.3 g Vitamin E: 11 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: .005 g Phytosterols: 82.5 mg L-arginine: 1.1g
Calories: 235.5 Protein: 7.8 g Fiber: 1.4 g Vitamin E: 0.5 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.03 g Phytosterols: 64.5 mg L-arginine: 0.9 g
Calories: 294 Protein: 3.9 g Fiber: 4.1 g Vitamin E: 0.6 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.4 g Phytosterols: 67.5 mg L-arginine: 0.5 g
Calories: 238.5 Protein: 8.7 g Fiber: 4.4 g Vitamin E: 1.1 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.1 g Phytosterols: 91.5 mg L-arginine: 0.9 g
Calories: 306 Protein: 3.3 g Fiber: 3.6 g Vitamin E: 0.3 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.1 g Phytosterols: 49.5 mg L-arginine: 0.6 g
Calories: 277.5 Protein: 6.5 g Fiber: 2.9 g Vitamin E: 0.3 mg Omega-3 fatty acids: 3.9 g Phytosterols: 46.5 mg L-arginine: 1g